The churning of the train was relentless, the darkness we were succumbed in was total, and the cold was almost unbearable. With no isolation from the cold and no source of light, it was impossible to tell where we were or how long we had been on the train. The only indication that we had been there for several hours was my sour muscles, for we had little space to move so we stayed the whole journey sat down next to each other, our suitcases close to us as if we were holding on to the only thing we knew.
Looking up from where we were sitting as we leaned against the rough boxes piled up, our only fragments of light were the outline of our ceiling entrance, which didn’t manage to light the space mildly. However, it was an indication that the sun hadn’t set, and we knew that when we arrived at around seven it would be dark. This meant we still had a dreadful long way to go.
During that ride Harry and I couldn’t do much, just keep our bodies close to each other and pray that we wouldn’t freeze to death. In fact, that coldness sucked all the energy out of us, and the discharge of adrenaline we had when sneaking in the train had drained us to the point where it was hard to keep my eyes open.
Due to that cold, it was not even a question if we wanted to be close together and share our body heat, he had to. Our hands were interlaced and our knees were close to our chests so we could store all the heat we had. At one point, my teeth started creaking involuntarily, proving that even with our efforts to stay warm, the cold managed to creep its way in.
“Now it would be wonderful to go through a heat wave,” I said rather loudly so my voice could be heard over the noise of the train.
“I doubt that,” Harry answered, twisting his feet which were numb.
Suddenly, the faint outline of light from the ceiling became even fainter, and the soft tapping sound of raindrops came to life above our heads. It seemed like the heatwave I has wishes for transformed into exactly what I was wanting to avoid, seen as the rain made the weather even colder.
“I can’t believe this,” I said, ready feeling the extra cold creeping in the carriage “I’m sure we are in Germany, not Iceland.”
The rainfall gradually became stronger, and that constant drumming was quite soothing. I shut my eyes, trying to find more warmth in Harry, and him in me.
To our surprise, the train started to slow down. I found it very strange for I knew we still had a long way to go before we reached Bonn. I looked at Harry in the darkness, expressing my confusion.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked.
“I have no clue.”
With this, the train came to a stop. Because we weren’t close to any passengers, we weren’t sure if this was a stop, but we assumed that was the case.
We stayed where we were, knowing the train would start moving soon.
Suddenly, a hand hit the metal doors of our carriage, shaking the entire compartment, as if we were mice inside a tin box. My heart jumping out of my chest. I was lucky though, because I was able to hold back a scream which threatened to leave my mouth.
“Lassen Sie uns das schnell entladen. Die Maschinen können nicht lange im Regen stehen!”
The German gibberish sent a shiver down my spine. Although I did not understand a single word, the fact that they were so close couldn’t be good.
Harry and I stayed still like statues, afraid that a single movement would be enough for the German’s outside to hear us.
I squeezed Harry’s hand, that gesture sufficing to express my fear. However, I wanted to speak, I wanted to tell him how my heart felt like it was about to stop at any moment, but I stayed silent.
The sound of electric machines came to life. Even though I could not see them, I was sure they were incredibly close. Because they were making such noise, I thought it was safe to speak, and I was desperate to tell Harry what was crossing my mind.
“They are unloading!” I whispered as softly as my nerves allowed.
Harry’s expression of panic was enough to skyrocket my anxiety. The worse case scenario invaded my mind, and I could sense they were going to open the carriage we were in any moment.
“We have to leave before they see us!” Harry said, jumping to his feet and standing the furthest away from the metal doors.
“But how? If we leave through the ceiling they will see us anyway!” My head started spinning again. How was it possible that we were being so unlucky? “And what if we are at a station where the only way out is through the entrance? We will never get past security! Or what if we are in the country? Where are we supposed to do them?”
We heard footsteps just outside the carriage and I stopped speaking immediately. The men were so close we could even hear them breathe.
“Geben Sie mir den Schlüssel, um dieses zu öffnenheard,” we one of them said. Although we didn’t know the meaning of his words, we did hear the man fumbling with the chain that kept the doors of the carriage locked. He was going to open our carriage, and he would find us inside and we were screwed.
I looked at Harry, panic and fear taking over my body. Harry instantly got up on a box and opened carefully the ceiling door. Rain came pouring down from that tiny hole in the ceiling as he ducked to get our suitcases. I responded instinctively to what he was doing, helping Him lift the suitcases over the top, but while I was doing so my mind wasn’t processing anything. I didn’t have time to process what has going on, I just had to do it.
The sound of the key unlocking the lock triggered something in me, adrenaline shooting through my body.
Harry climbed out first, and as soon as his head peeked out of the carriage a commotion started. I was jumping up and down impatiently on top of the box Harry had used to lift himself from, waiting for my turn to climb out.
But it was too late. As I prepared myself to lift my body over our exit, the sliding door of the carriage opened, light invading the dark space. I locked eyes with a man of light complexion and a thick beard, his expression of astonishment petrifying me.
“Summer, come on!” Harry shouted from above. With all my strength I lifted my body and once my torso was past the hole I used my legs to give me the last push to get out of there. In the meantime, Harry had thrown our suitcases to the ground and had jumped right behind them.
“Was ist das!? Wer bist du!? Sie können nicht laufen! Jemand ruft die Polizei!” Some men shouted, but to no avail. They were equally in shock to take any action, and before I knew it I had jumped off the train, my feet landing on wet grass, leaving the men on the other side of the train, away from our sight.
The only place Harry and I could run to was the woods. The thick terrain was the most logical place to hide from the furious and confused workers. With rain pouring down on us, we ran into the wild vegetation, my suitcase making it hard to run faster than what I knew I could run. The German’s were shouting at us, no doubt asking us to stop, but we kept running. When I thought we were far away enough, I looked back. The wide and tall spruce trees blocked our view from the station which was both a relief and a concern. How were we supposed to get out of that forest once we were inside it?
The fear of being chased kept us running deeper and deeper into the forest. The mossy ground made us slow down so we wouldn’t trip and fall, but still, we ran. The tree tops did stop some rain from falling, but after a while not even them were able to stop us from getting soaked. Without us noticing, we gradually started running more slowly until we came to a stop. With no protection from the elements, I was freezing cold. Memories of when I got hypothermia flashed across my mind. My breathing was becoming more difficult by the second, my body was shaking so much I was in pain, just like last time.
I leaned against a tree and dropped my suitcase. The short strands of my hair sticking to my face due to their dampness.
“Harry,” I called, my arms wrapped around my body to keep me warm. He looked back and his expression changed instantly once he saw me. He moved towards me, getting my hair out of my face.
“Come on Summer, they might be right behind us!”
I couldn’t respond. The air in my lungs froze my body inside out.
“You’re pale,” Harry said, studying my face “Say something!”
I blinked my eyes several times before managing to say “I’m cold.”
Summer was shivering uncontrollably as she curled into a ball next to a tree. Her breathing reminded me of someone who had just run a marathon, and she was clearly showing signs of confusion. I had no idea what to do. She looked like she was going to faint any moment and we were in the middle of nowhere, with the German’s no doubt behind us. I had to act fast so we could keep moving, but even I found it hard to focus due to the cold.
I opened my suitcase, taking out my heavy overcoat. I hadn’t used it during or journey due to its weight, but now it seemed like the perfect solution. Being the overcoat bigger than Summer, it would cover her body completely, like a blanket.
I placed it over her shoulders, hoping it would warm her up.
“You’ll be okay, we just have to keep moving,” I encouraged her, desperate for her to get up so we could move on.
Slowly, she got up, holding herself up by my shoulder. She closed the buttons of the overcoat, struggling to keep her hand steady.
“Where are we going?” She asked as I placed an arm around her shoulders.
I had absolutely no idea, but I didn’t have the strength in me to tell her that, not when she looked like she was about to faint.
“We are walking to a highway.”
White vapour left her mouth, her lips once blue starting to turn pink again “I don’t see any highway.”
I didn’t see either, but I couldn’t tell her that.
“If there is a train station so close then a highway must be, too,” I said, not even convincing myself of that.
We walked until our legs couldn’t move any longer. The rain was relentless, it hadn’t ceased to fall ever since we left that train. Looking at my watch, forty minutes had passed and we still had no sign of civilisation. If I had been nervous before, I was now on the edge of sanity. At least Summer was warmer, but with the threatening hours passing by, we would get out of light soon and the temperature would drop massively. Not to mention the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere, deep forest all around us. I had no sense of direction, it seemed like we were walking in circles, not going anywhere.
“Harry, let’s walk back to the train station,” Summer said, looking around her, trying to find a trail.
I had no clue which way we had come from or how far away we were from the station. Did we really walk in a straight line for that long? Did we have to turn around and walk the other way? Hadn’t we mistakenly turned right or left? Could we be going backwards already, in the direction of the station, and we hadn’t even noticed it?
My head felt like it was going to explode. What the hell were we going to do?
I looked at Summer who had started crying. She knew very well we were completely lost and out of reach, and no matter how much we walked, we couldn’t find any signs of human life.
“We’re going to die here,” Summer said as she tried to cover her face with the overcoat.
“I’m sorry Summer,” I said, my voice weak and trembling. In that moment, of all the things I could be thinking, my mind took me to the time where I had stopped Summer from sending her parents a letter explaining where she was going and what she was going to do. I thought of how that was probably the last chance she had of communicating with her parents, and how I had taken that away from her.
I looked at her. Fear, confusion, panic, was all I could see in her face, and worse than that, the feeling of knowing we had no salvation. That look of giving up, of accepting we weren’t getting out of there absolutely destroyed me.
“We are going to die here,” she said again, her uncontrollable crying making her voice crack.
She looked like a defenceless child who had lost her parents in the middle of a busy street, where everything looked like a threat, where the world seemed bigger and she had become smaller.
I dropped my suitcase and broke down into a sob. I had never felt fear with such intensity, a fear which engulfed me into a bubble and blocked all sound. The identical trees around me seemed to be mocking me for my desperation, mocking me for my ambition of wanting to travel with no adults, mocking me for crying in front of Summer instead of trying to reassure her, mocking me because I still hoped there was a way out alive, when there wasn’t.
A sense of isolation invaded me. I felt sinisterly alone.
Summer ran into me, her arms wrapping around my back as she crying onto my shoulder. She gripped me as if she was gripping for dear life, as if she knew that the cold around us would end up killing us and she wanted warmth like she wanted water. It was hard to form a single word, but there were so many things I wanted to tell her that I pushed through the tears.
“When we go back to England you’re coming home with me. My house is going to be your house, and your parents are going to let you because they will come for dinner every single day,”
Summer fisted her hands as she pulled the fabric of my jacket and winced, as if those words brought her physical pain.
“And I’m going to be a famous pianist and you are going to be a gold medallist and we are going to be so happy together! We are going to travel the world, and the first place we will go is America, just like you wanted!”
It was hard to distinguish whether the water drops on Summer’s hair were raindrops or my tears, but if anyone told me I had soaked Summer’s hair with just my tears I would had believed. In that moment, I cried like I had never cried before, the scenario I was painting reminding me of what we would never have, pressing on the idea that we would never get out of that forest.
“There is only one problem with your plan,” she said, stroking my hair as she lifted her head from my shoulder and looked at me.
“What is it?”
“Your forgot to say you’d marry me.”
My heart both melted and shattered at the same time with her words, “Of course I’ll marry you! I’ll marry you as if my life depended on it.”
Summer placed her lips on mine and kissed me with urgency and purpose, wanting to keep that dream alive. I meant every word and I said, and for some seconds, it felt as if they were true, as if they had a chance of ever coming true.
We parted, the tears on my face now mixed with hers and the rain. All I could think of was how this was it. We would sit down by a tree, our arms around each other as we trembled both in fear and coldness and we would drift off to sleep. That was how it was going to go. Our strengths would run out, and when we would no longer be able to walk or talk. If the coldness of the night spared us, thirst would do the trick. But the scariest thing was knowing that no one would know where we were and never would.
I looked towards the sky, praying that the rain would stop. I knew what we were going to face, but at least I wanted to be dry.
That was when I saw it.
In between the branches overhead, a white smoke contrasted vividly with the dark clouds. That could not be a cloud, it was manmade smoke, from a chimney or a machine.
“Summer, look. Look now!”
I turned her around and pointed towards the sky. Maybe the idea of staring death in the face was making me delusional, and I just hoped that what I was seeing was true so I wouldn’t disappoint her with false hope. The look on her face proved me that I saw was real.
With our eyes on the sky we hastily followed the trail of smoke. I had no clue where that smoke was coming from, but it was a sign that we couldn’t give up.
We jumped over fallen logs, we passed under trees and moved plants aside as we moved.
“Can you see anything?” Summer asked, her eyes glimmering with hope.
“No, but we have to be close!”
That was when we reached a clearing. The thick vegetation which seemed to be moving with us came to a stop and a country house came into view at the top of a hill, white smoke coming out of its chimney. I felt like bursting into tears if I wasn’t already crying my eyes out.
Summer started shouting in disbelief as her knees gave out and she fell on the wet grass of the lawn which surrounded the house.
Even though I had never experienced or lived through a miracle in my life, I knew pretty damn well what had happened to us was a miracle.
“Come on Summer, let’s get out of this rain.”